Whether it's a bleak December or the more mild weather we are becoming used to, you can still spend useful time in the garden. David Coton suggests the jobs that can occupy the shortening days.
However many books you read or TV programmes you watch, nothing is better to gain inspiration than a visit to a garden open to the public. Here are some of Nathan James Dodd's favourites, where you can see, smell and perhaps buy the plant that you've only seen in a magazine.
Nowhere can be more appropriate to start than Ryland Mount in Cumbria. Even if you can't 'Wander lonely as a cloud', Wordsworth's house and landscaped gardens, with fell side terraces, rock pools, rare shrubs and of course the daffodils, will be an inspiring day out.
Howick Hall in Northumberland, opens in February with a 'snowdrop festival' followed by a brilliant show of narcissi in March and April. Later, their excellent collection of camellias, magnolias and rhododendrons thrive in the woodland garden while tulips are at their best in wild flower meadows.
Mid-April is the best time to visit the Guy Wilson Daffodil Garden at the University of Ulster in Coleraine. Occupying an old quarry with paths leading through beds and drifts of daffodils, the 1500 cultivars, many rare and unusual, have been sourced worldwide.
There is no better location than Plas Newydd, in Gwynedd, for a fine spring garden with a camellia dell, rhododendrons, azaleas and magnolias. Designed by Repton and overlooking the Menai Straits, the gothic house is well worth visiting and look out for the red squirrels.
Each February there is the Dingle woodland snowdrop walk at Dudmaston Gardens in Shropshire and later a mass of colour when the rhododendrons, magnolias, flowering cherries and kalmias come into their own under-planted with primroses and daffodils.
Batsford Arboretum in Gloucestershire comes to life with snowdrops under old oak trees and on the banks of a stream together with bright yellow aconites and mauve crocuses. Daffodils follow in their thousands cascading down the hillsides followed by cowslips, primroses and wild garlic. The 73 magnolia cultivars and Japanese cherry trees flower from late March into May.
In the east midlands, the orchard of Felley Priory in Nottinghamshire is carpeted with thousands of orange, apricot, white and yellow daffodils each spring. And the colour doesn't stop there with tulips, hellebores, peonies, magnolias and snake's head fritillary.
The restored Easton Walled Garden in Lincolnshire is another garden that has organised walks to view the masses of river bank snowdrops in February, there are talks and an indoor display of unusual varieties. Drifts of daffodils and tulips follow later in the spring.
Described as a Cornish garden in Suffolk, East Bergholt Place has a woodland garden packed with camellias, rhododendrons and azaleas. There is are also a February snowdrop walk and a well stocked plant shop in the Victorian walled garden.
In Cornwall the sprawling Antony Woodland Garden hosts the National Collection of Camellia japonica with over 300 different cultivars together with many varieties of rhododendron and magnolia, while Caerhays Castle Gardens house the National Collection of the latter in a beautiful setting.
Docton Mill is situated in a beautiful secluded Devon valley where the river bank explodes with daffodils, bluebells and wild garlic every spring, the woodland is carpeted by bluebells and a bog garden boasts candelabra primulas late in the spring. You can also enjoy an award winning cream tea.
Also in the same county, where the moist mild climate favours various tender species, spring flowering shrubs cover the valley sides at Coleton Fishacre. Alternatively, visit Kingston Lacey in Dorset for snowdrops and the National Collection of Anemone nemorosa.
The splendid little steam train comes out of the sidings in March to transport visitors around Exbury Gardens in the New Forest and its Rothschild Collection of over ten thousand rhododendrons, with azaleas. magnolias and camellias, make this a very special spring place.
Spinners, also in Hampshire, has approx. 90 species maganolia cultivars and a large collection of rhododendrons.
In East Sussex, the exquisite Capability Brown landscape at Sheffield Park Garden, together with bluebells and daffodils make a magnificent spring combination. Rhododendrons and azaleas complete the vista.
Finally, a trip to Hever Castle in Kent will be rewarded with swathes of snowdrops and crocuses in March, daffodils decorating Anne Boleyn's Orchard in April with Camellia covered walls and early tulips and violas in the Italian Garden. Spring bedding includes hyacinths, wallflowers and pansies.
In order to promote and enhance biodiversity and conservation of our wildlife, there's a selection of habitats and boxes you can purchase that are specifically designed to attract various small animals and insects to your garden. Here we look at some of the products available which also make unusual and very engaging gifts.
With warmer weather and an early Easter, the garden centre is busy at the moment with customers stocking up on summer bedding plants - snapdragons, cornflowers, cosmos, verbena, phlox, petunia, As well as filling planters, hanging baskets and borders with colour that will last all summer, there are always plenty of jobs to do in the garden during April and David Coton has these suggestions.
Every gardener must have noticed a decline in the bee population over recent years. Intensive farming that demands the use of toxic chemicals, climate change and parasite infestation have all been put forward as potential causes, it's a worrying trend but one that we can all help to reverse.
As an excellent alternative to conventional products, Trimetals' storage solutions blend top quality manufacture with contemporary style. Their range has now been extended to include two new maintenance free sheds and Robert Hall has all the details.